I figured I’d start adding more posts than just book reviews and storytime plans. I am the school services librarian at our public library. It is rather small but our local school district only has one district librarian and 4 schools and I cover additional schools on top of that.

What are Classroom Connections?

So we have a teacher book bag which is called our Classroom Connection. It includes books but can have any other supplemental material as well. A teacher in our library district can request a bag of supplemental resources. Other than the fact that they are serving our library patrons (students) in our district, we do this to save teachers time, because we can pick quality resources and are pretty good at eyeballing grade level appropriateness. A district librarian orders for the whole district and they don’t always have a lot of money or ears to the ground of the wants of the smaller populations (ex: ELL 2nd grade students at one school as opposed to what the whole district wants). We like to fill in the gaps they have in the collection and we also often supply extra copies if the teachers are doing lit circles or big school-wide projects. We like to show teachers how to incorporate nonfiction, magazines, reference material, websites, and tech into the curriculum. The bags are a good chance to showcase our collection. We also have heavy use of our audio kit collection where there is a physical book and the book on CD included and/or Playaways. The teachers call these their listening center books.

Reading Levels

It’s never fun for a teacher to get a bag of books that her kids can’t read, or a bunch of boring books that don’t make good read alouds. I always try to make it a point of asking whether these are read aloud books, books with text features, books for the students to read or research from, etc… so I can pick the appropriate content and reading level. So, if the students are doing a lesson on glossaries and table of contents, every book should have one.

While making a natural disaster bag for 5th graders, I decided to show some examples of how I pick books. Here are a few earthquake book pages.

Earthquakes by Mari Schuh

Earthquakes by Mari Schuh

This book is part of the Pebble Plus imprint of Capstone books. I generally pick these for 1st and 2nd graders reading nonfiction on their own (so obviously I didn’t include this in the 5th grade bag). Notice there are only two sentences per page, the sentence structure is pretty simple with noun-verb, and there is not too much detailed information. There are subtitles on each page to give the topic. There is a lot of white space, large print, one big picture per page spread. There is a table of contents, glossary and index. 350L

Earthquakes by Ellen Prager

Earthquakes by Ellen Prager

This books is almost like a narrative nonfiction. It looks more like a picture book, but it’s not. There are many cartoon-style drawings and diagrams to illustrate how earthquakes happen. I would use this as a read aloud, not an independent research book, for grades 3-5. Narrative nonfiction, while being more appealing than dry nonfiction books, actually come with a higher lexile because there are virtually no text features to guide students. I did not put this in the bag because the students are researching on their own and the teacher requested text features. AD810L

Danger! Earthquakes by Seymour Simon

Danger! Earthquakes by Seymour Simon

While I love Seymour Simon’s informational texts for their quality and his ability to write for multiple reading levels, this text is too easy and short for a 5th grade student. I would give these to 3rd grade for independent research or 1-3rd grade for free reading. It’s designed like an early reader, but there are more words on the page and the vocabulary is a little high for beginning readers. Lexile not on Lexile.com

Earthquakes: Eyewitness to Disaster by Judy & Dennis Fradin

Earthquakes: Eyewitness to Disaster by Judy & Dennis Fradin

This was a book I did include in the bag. The reading level is higher and more detailed, yet the pictures break up the text so it’s not overwhelming. There are captions, quotes, sidebars, titles, subtitles, diagrams, table of contents, index, glossary. I love that they listed the scientists and eyewitnesses that they interviewed at the end of the book. It really shows that they did original research to give us another look at earthquakes. It shows kids what real research is like and what goes into making a nonfiction book and making sure it is accurate. It adds to the reliability of the authors that they did all this work (a nice thing to point out to the 5 grade + crowd). 1050L

Inside Earthquakes by Melissa Stewart

Inside Earthquakes by Melissa Stewart

Who doesn’t love Melissa Stewart’s unique look into real life topics? Not only does this include all the usual text features, but I love the fold out pages. They are not gimmicky. They include more information where the format adds to the quality. For instance, you can see the progression and after effects of a tsunami on a town. We see the before and after pictures, then we see the floods, landslides, and avalanches that followed the first disaster. What a thrilling and real way to look at landforms and fast changes to land? I definitely included this in the 5th grade bag. No Lexile listed.

The Process

First, the teacher requests a bag. They can do this by phone, email, fax or filling out the web form at http://www.lvdl.org/book-lovers/classroom-connection-bag-request. I prefer the web form because it gets all of our specific questions answered right away so that I can give the best type of materials for that class (right reading level, read aloud vs. independent, purpose of material, any standards needing covering, certain text features wanted, etc..). Otherwise, I often ask questions in email like what grade are you, are the kids reading this themselves, do you want narrative nonfiction or with text features… and the reply is usually just “yes,” and then we have to play email tag forever just to get down to what they want. Even though it’s annoying, it’s often better than giving them a bag of stuff you think they want that they don’t actually want. Think of it as a long reference interview.

We ask that the teachers request the bag a week in advance so we can get quality materials and be able to schedule them if we’re backed up or I’m out of the office. I usually get the bags done quicker, but it’s our safety net and then I have time to ask clarifying questions.

I put the bag together and keep a list of the title, author and call number of all the books on an excel sheet with the teacher’s name, school, grade, email, due date, and topic. This way, I can keep track of who has what for reminders and for hunting down missing books and the teacher gets a copy to make sure they get all the books back to us. It’s also handy for repeat customers and for repeat topics. I can pull a 5th grade natural disasters bag any time now without having to re-research everything. I will update these lists with newer books as we get them (for instance, you can’t have old volcano books because that changes the information on how tall it is and it’s last eruption!).

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After I put the bag together, I send the bag, the excel sheet and the cart of books to circulation to check out to that school’s card. They send it back to me a couple hours later, and I put in a feedback survey in each bag, save the checkout receipt to my files, and notify the teacher the bag is ready to be picked up.

The teacher needs to pick up the bag at our youth services desk and show their school ID. We don’t go to the school to drop off or pick up books. I know more teachers would use it, but that would be too much time, money, and staff on the public library. The teachers get the materials for 4 weeks and can renew up to 2 times if no one has the books on hold. There are no late fines and the schools only have to pay a missing book bill if there are more than 10 items missing in a year (we have a written contract with the schools for this). Since I have been here, no schools have had to pay at all for Classroom Connection materials and we have lost less than 5 books a year. I usually make 155 bags (4,650+ items) a year. Then we have a School Card for each teacher for run in and grab items. We have 64 School Card checkouts (252 items) a year about. We are a pretty small library, but I still plan on growing this number.